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Israeli finance minister says peace pact unrealistic

Suggests interim arrangement

Israeli finance minister Yair Lapid’s plan was published just days before a visit from Secretary of State John Kerry.

Ariel Schalit/Associated Press

Israeli finance minister Yair Lapid’s plan was published just days before a visit from Secretary of State John Kerry.

JERUSALEM — Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s senior coalition partner says that reaching a final peace agreement with the Palestinians is unrealistic at the current time and the sides should instead pursue an interim arrangement.

Finance Minister Yair Lapid’s assessment, delivered in a published interview Sunday just days before the arrival of Secretary of State John F. Kerry, throws a contentious idea into the mix as the United States searches for ways to restart peace talks.

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It remains unclear whether the idea of a temporary arrangement will be raised during Kerry’s visit later this week. In March, American officials confirmed that an interim arrangement, while not their preference, was one of the ideas being explored.

With the gaps between Israel and the Palestinians on many key issues seemingly unbridgeable, pursuing a Palestinian state with temporary borders has emerged as an option in recent months, particularly among Israelis searching for a way out of the status quo. The Palestinians have repeatedly rejected this option, fearing an interim deal that falls short of their hopes will become permanent.

In order to allay Palestinian concerns, Lapid told the Yediot Ahronot daily that President Obama should set a three-year timeline for determining the final borders of a Palestinian state. As a gesture to the Israelis, he also called on Obama to endorse the position laid out by President George W. Bush in 2004, allowing Israel to keep some of the Jewish settlements it has built on occupied lands.

The issue of Jewish settlements has been at the heart of the current 4½-year impasse in peace talks. The Palestinians have refused to negotiate, saying that continued Israeli construction in the West Bank and east Jerusalem is a sign of bad faith. The Palestinians claim both areas and the Gaza Strip, all captured by Israel in the 1967 Mideast war, for their future state.

Most Israelis, including Netanyahu, think that the continued control over millions of Palestinians would spell demographic suicide for Israel, and that creation of an independent Palestinian state is essential to preserving Israel’s identity as a democracy with a Jewish majority.

‘‘I believe in the two-state solution,’’ Lapid told Yediot. ‘‘In my opinion, there is nothing more dangerous than the idea of a bi-national state.’’

At the same time, though, Lapid, like Netanyahu, rejects a full withdrawal to Israel’s 1967 lines.

Lapid favors a broad pullout from the West Bank, including the dismantling of many settlements, but believes Israel should hold on to major blocs along the Israeli frontier where the majority of settlers live.

Lapid also believes that Israel should keep control of East Jerusalem, home to sensitive Jewish, Muslim, and Christian religious sites. The Palestinians claim East Jerusalem as their capital.

Nimr Hamad, an adviser to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, gave Lapid’s proposal a cool reception.

‘‘We have heard this idea before and rejected it simply because we know the intention of Israel is to continue building on Jerusalem and other parts of the West Bank,’’ he said. ‘‘The most important thing for us’’ is to agree on the final borders between Israel and a future Palestine, he added.

Kerry has been shuttling between the Israelis and Palestinians in recent months in search of a formula for restarting negotiations.

For now, he is focused on setting up a framework for a final peace deal. Recently, he won support from Arab leaders for a comprehensive peace with Israel in exchange for the establishment of a Palestinian state along the 1967 lines. To entice Israel, the Arab leaders said the final borders could be modified as part of an agreement between Israel and the Palestinians.

The issues of Jerusalem and final borders are just some of the explosive core issues that must be resolved. The Palestinians demand the ‘‘right of return’’ of millions of Palestinian refugees and their descendants, whose families lost property in what is now Israel. Israel rejects this out of hand, saying a mass influx would spell the end of the country.

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